Teamwork and Personal Skills

Hiya! This is the assignment post I was talking about the other day. I’m going to talk a little about teamwork and personal skills. Unit 5 was all about teams, how to effectively work in them, the major problems associated with teams, and other such subjects. In order to write this, we had to do a number of activities, including watch two video lectures.

The first activities were online learning readiness assessments. The first assessment was the SJSU-SLIS “Is Online Learning Right For You?” You had to answer yes to a majority of the questions in order to feel like you could reasonably succeed in an online learning environment. The second assessment was from the San Diego Community College District called “Online Learning Readiness Assessment.” Both assessments were strongly focused on time management skills, organizational skills, and self-motivation.

To be a successful online student, one must really be a master of time. Especially if the program is entirely asynchronous, meaning that there are no set class times. Now SLIS isn’t entirely asynchronous, but the majority of classes are such. To many, this sounds like the perfect school, and indeed, it can be. Without set class times, set times to be in front of the computer, headset on, students can interact with the class material at any time. If 2am is a great time for school, then school work will be done at 2am. If 4pm is a quiet time, then school work will be done at 4pm. It really is all about finding the time that works best and using it to the fullest. It’s also about taking breaks when necessary. You can’t always be doing school work, you’ll burn out. It’s inevitable. Especially as a new student, information overload is a real thing. Be a Time Queen/King.

Organizational skills are also important for online students, specifically at SLIS. There’s this thing called the ePortfolio, the graduate equivalent of a capstone class or “culminating experience,” as they call it. In it, students have to match class assignments, just the major ones or the ones you performed fabulously on, with one of the core competencies that every SLIS student must master.  The assignments can come from any and all classes taken.  But this isn’t the only reason organizational skills are important. It helps to have everything in one place that it easily accessible. Why? Well, how else are you going to find that one sentence from an LIBR202 discussion that perfectly captured a particular idea or theme for LIBR280? (I just made those up. Even though they are real classes,  I have no idea if they’re compatible in this sense.) Many of the tips for success are about how to name assignment files for easy retrieval.

I suppose I should mention that for the SDCCD assessment, I scored over 45. That means I’m ready for online learning. I have no problems going to the source, instructor or peer mentor, for help. I have motivated to perform well and get good grades, while learning as much as I possibly can.

I also took notes of strategies of successful online students. Have a calendar and don’t procrastinate were the top two. Not just a calendar on  a cell phone, or in Google, but a real paper calendar or planner. Put assignment due dates, Collaborate sessions, and the beginning and ending of class weeks for each class you’re taking.  I do have a planner, and a dry erase board where I write down everything I need for a particular month. Procrastination, though, is something I struggle with constantly. Even when I’m excited about something, I have a tendency to wait until the last minute to start planning. Or, I’ll start early, lose interest, and end up pulling out an all nighter or 11th hour finish.  I have to work on that. I know. My dry erase board, situated on my bathroom mirror, helps with that.  If I see it every day, I’m more likely to work on the project or whatever it is a little bit every day. Currently, my dry erase board tells me that I have to finish Units 1-3 of LIBR203 by 8/30/13. Hence, I work on my school work a little bit every day. I’ll admit though, this is the assignment for Unit 5. I’ve finished Units 1,2,4, and 9. I’m still jumping around, but Unit 3 is actually next on my list.

Moving on to the video lectures. The first was “Working In Teams” by Dr. Ken Haycock. Let me tell you, he broke it down. I never knew there were stages to team development, like the stages of grief. He named them Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. He even gave great explanations for these four stages.

In the Forming stage, the team is assembled. Whether chosen or assigned, the team comes together, meets for the first time and discusses the project. They talk about the directions and what they mean. They may complain a little about assignment or instructor. They are also supposed to set ground rules, consequences, performance standards, and goals for the team at this stage. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s supposed to happen.  A lot of the time teams don’t do these last things are because they’re afraid of conflict. Team members don’t want to be ‘the bad guy’ or the ‘goody two-shoes’. They don’t want to be seen as ‘the upstart,’ just taking charge of the group. But successful teams have to have ground rules. They need to talk about what each team member is good at, the division of labor, and what grade each team member wants to get. Dr Haycock explained it like this, if Team Member 2 wants an A for the project then she’s going to turn in A work. If Team Member 4 only wants a B-, then he’s only going to turn in enough work to get a B-. But if all team members talk about what they want out of the project, they’re likely to come to an agreement on an acceptable grade, which should be an A, and then that becomes the standard for all work going into the project. Expectations are important. They motivate.

(Wow, this is long.)

The second stage is Storming. We all know what this stage means. There’s anger and distrust. We don’t really like the people we’re working with or their attitudes. We start to get really competitive with each other. This stage is just all badness. It’s necessary, but we don’t have like it. We need to be prepared for this stage. Understand that every team goes through this, and try to keep all team members on track with the assignment. This stage sees the most conflict. However, Dr. Haycock says that conflict is normal, seriously, and that as long as team members are committed to discussing issues respectfully and at one time with all members present, then conflict is good. Yes, Conflict is GOOD.

The third stage is Norming, also called resolution.  In this stage, teams start to cooperate more than compete with each other. There’s acceptance of other team members’ skills and experiences. Work starts to actually get done on the project. This doesn’t mean that teams don’t work in the Storming stage, but work is much smoother going here.

The final stage is Performing. At this stage, teams have gelled. They know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and play to the strengths. They’ve learned things about themselves that will help them be successful in life out side of the classroom. They are comfortable with each other and know how to share information respectfully.

Recognition of these four stages can lead to a lot of avoided headaches. Just to recap right here, skills necessary to being a good online student and team member: time management skills, organizational skills, knowledge of the four stages of team development, knowledge of the self. Know you’re own strengths and weaknesses. You’re willingness to be upfront about what you know and don’t know can help others be brave and examine their own skill set.

There also some roadblocks that come up for teams. Things that are really unhelpful and unproductive. Enid Irwin gives a few in her talk about “The Monster Inside Library School: Student Teams.” Silence is not helpful. Silence does not signify agreement or disagreement. Silence is nothing. It isn’t participation. It isn’t presence. It’s just…. Team members need to be fully engaged in the process. I am guilty, sometimes, of silence within a team. Sometimes, I have nothing to say, but that’s not true. I always have some commentary running through my mind, whether it’s about the project or the person speaking at the time. Now, that second commentary is not at all helpful. But in a good team, all opinions about the project are welcome. So, why should I keep my mouth shut about my thoughts on the project? I shouldn’t. Need to work on that. I think that may be easier in an online environment. There are no visual cues, so I’m going to have to talk.

Another roadblock she mentions is being controlling. Sometimes, we may not mean it, but we just take over. It’s true. I don’t think I’m controlling, but I can be pushy sometimes. I want my ideas heard, and I get very defensive when I’m not. The key is to be respectful. Don’t try to be the loudest voice in the room. I certainly could never be that, but passive aggression is not a good thing either for a team.  But it’s like Dr. Haycock said, if all teams start on a level field with conversations about personal strengths and weaknesses, skills, ground rules, goals, and performance standards, there can be success, even through the storming stage.

Ok, I really must go now.

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